I shouldn’t be here!” my daughter cried out, both angry and devastated that her roller derby team was about to skate for a second time at a tournament she was missing.
She should not have been home. My own grief and anger rose up as I recalled the event that led to this moment.
How could someone be so negligent? That Sunday before, on our way home from practice, our car was struck at an intersection. The young driver was attempting to make a u-turn from the right lane. She was outraged that we happened to be in the left lane at the time. The impact was on my daughter’s side of the car giving her whiplash that left her with a persistent headache.
And that is life. It changes in an instant.
Shortly after our accident it was reported that three men were attacked while standing up for two young women being harassed on a train. How could they have known the aggressive man calling out racial and anti-muslim slurs would turn on them, fatally stabbing two of them?
The lives of their loved ones were forever changed in an instant. They shouldn’t be here in the shadow of their unspeakable loss. They shouldn’t have been writing obituaries and speaking with news outlets or planning memorial services. One of the victims was 23, just 3 years older than my son and the other man, barely into his 50’s.
Why did this happen? An ancient question still asked by so many.
As I consider the reasons, I am reminded Proverbs 3:5: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
Maybe there are things in life that will never make sense, that cannot be understood—the death of a child, a senseless murder, a cancer diagnosis, and yes, even a car accident that, if only temporarily, turns a few weeks up-side down.
Things may not always make sense, but with my faith and trust in God, I know that I will eventually make peace with all the changes life brings.
Praise God, I’m so grateful to be able to witness that same peace rising up in my daughter.
Some of the hardest personalities I work with as a hospice chaplain are the ones who are bitter. These individuals carry heavy hearts burdened with loss, betrayal, hardship, and abuse.
Their conversations are always filled with negative comments, mistrust, dark thinking, and hatred. Isolation is typical; forgiveness, rare.
Often, I don’t even make it across their threshold. One mention of “spiritual” and my services are quickly declined. In too many cases, I represent the God who left them hurting in the first place.
Others allow me in, identify as people of faith, but speak in such a way that the God, Higher Power, or guru they claim as theirs might not recognize them as followers.
And they can’t juststop the “stinkin’ thinkin’.”
I counsel individuals who have lived through decades and decades of disappointment and despair.
It is extremely difficult for them to trust and to see that goodness and kind-hearted people really exist.
But I do firmly believe that one’s attitude about life is the palette from which her or his world is painted. Dark imaginings tend to produce dark realities. If I am convinced that my day will be crappy, chances are…my day is going to be crappy.
If I assume that everyone I meet will belittle, cheat, or regurgitate their ugliness upon me…I’m fairly sure that any words or actions of another will be interpreted as such.
As I vigilantly stay on the look out for every bleak signs that I was right about this dark world, I sadly miss out on that small blessing that just passed me by: the clerk who genuinely complimented me on my outfit, the small child who smiled sweetly, the individual who helped me for no other reason but to be kind.
The kindness, goodness, and magic of the world sometimes have to be diligently sought after.
When my children were younger, I began creating bingo cards (5 x 5 square grid—the center one FREE of course!) to keep them entertained on long trips. It was a treasure hunt, seeking out the ordinary and the ridiculous such as donkeys, rainbows, rock stars and unicorns.
Never seen a unicorn on a family trip before? Well, they exist. They come on key chains and bumper stickers and little children’s t-shirts. We were looking for a clown once and found it at a rest stop in the intricate design of a man’s tattoo.
Even the most obvious, when we are not consciously seeking, can pass us by.
On a recent trip, as part of my own bingo challenge I decided—the hospice chaplain that I am—to find the Grim Reaper. Impossible you say? That’s what I assumed. But, after 12 hours on the road, with an hour left to go, there he was on a billboard—the Grim Reaper, himself, persuading folks to not drink and drive. I was so ecstatic to find him!
But honestly, after that many hours of driving, had I not been seeking Grim, I would have blown right by him and his important message against driving drunk.
And what about you?
How do you see the world? What shades of color are on your painter’s palette? What are you expecting to find on your bingo card of life?
The Apostle Paul advises in his letter to the Philippians (4:8-9), “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received of heard from me, or seen in me—put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.“(NIV).**
Perhaps stinkin’ thinkin’ can’t ever be fully eliminated. Life, after all, can suck. But let us strive every day to keep that which is excellent and praiseworthy on our lips, in our hearts, and on the forefront our minds.
And when we do, I promise we will discover life to be more sweet than bitter.
**I also like this same scripture as found in Eugene Peterson’s The Message: Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
I recently saw this photo on Facebook. More than the child’s face, it was the words that caused my heart to sink.
Yes. One of the risks of believing in God is when tragedy strikes, when a rape has not been stopped, we feel as though God was somehow absent…uninterested…or powerless to stop such a heinous act.
Even Jesus questioned his faith and his God when he uttered these words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as he hung dying on a cross.
With the shocking and tragic bombing in Boston and horrible explosion in Texas this month, I know doubts have risen up. Believers ask “Why would God let these things happen? Why, God, do innocent people have to suffer or die? Where were you, God?”
Meanwhile, others are saying, “You foolish people. Where is your god now?”
And so my heart sinks.
When the only understanding of God is that of some kind of superhero who is supposed to stop rapes, bombings, and explosions from happening, the transformational power of faith is missed.
When my own life takes a turn for the worst, I definitely ask “Why?” (with a few expletives thrown in, believe me). But I do not question, “Why me?” I consider instead, “Why now, God?” And “What now?” I do not believe that I suffer or struggle because God was absent in my life or knowingly allowed something to happen as a form of punishment.
Believing in God means instead that I am challenged to look beyond the suffering and to ask, “What am I to learn? How am I to grow from this? Where do I go from here? What message of hope can I carry to others? How, with God’s help, will this darkness, this pain or this loss be transformed into Christ’s Light, Spirit’s comfort and God’s grace-filled joy?”
I make no assumptions that believing in God means that my life is going to be easy and without tragedy. My faith is not that simplistic. Violence happens. Accidents happen. Death and loss happen.
Which brings us back to the beginning.
Believing in God is risky.
Tragedy strikes and we question, with no simple answers to be found. Instead we discover a long journey where doubt and anger, grief and pain await us. We fall prey to the whispers of bystanders who claim we were alone all along and we wonder why God has forsaken us.
I meet many people in my hospice work who have gotten stuck at this part of the journey. Their faith cannot bring them beyond their betrayal of the superhero God who should have been there in their time of need.
They are unable to move through the pain to experience God’s power of transformation.
This is why I am a person of faith.
In my own life and others, I have witnessed rage melt into serenity and bitterness evolve into forgiveness. I have watched the darkness of grief transform into brilliant joy. I have seen people’s lives take on unexplainable changes for the better…because they took the risk to believe in a God who would not leave them in a state of brokenness. I am blown away, time and time again, when I see these transformations.
It is a risky business this thing called faith.
But I encourage you to take the risk. Go beyond a simplistic understanding of the Holy, release all the crap that is weighing you down (anger, fear, resentment, doubt, heartache, pain), give your brokenness over to God, and discover the beauty and grace of transformation.
Alas. So much for being a “true” blogger who’s at it unceasingly!
It seems, however, that I needed this hiatus. Much of my energy during this break has been poured into realizing a dream to move to cooler climates. After literally years of prayer (of asking, seeking and knocking—Matthew 7:7), a door of opportunity opened for my family and I to move to the Pacific Northwest. As I write this I am in a climate so very different from the desert. Eugene is wet, lush, green, cloudy and cold…and I’m loving it!
But the lessons I have learned from my time in desert have not escaped me, especially the spiritual ones. I am so grateful for the intense spiritual growth I’ve witnessed in myself over the last 5 1/2 years in the Sonoran Desert. My sojourn tested me physically, emotionally and, without a doubt, spiritually.
As I reflect on this desert journey, I want to pass on some of the lessons I’ve learned. Here is the first one:
This too shall pass.
Summer in the desert can seem to last forever. It arrives early in the year and continues month after month. It is not uncommon for late March and early April to be in the mid 90s. The month of May continues to see temperatures rise and by June it is guaranteed to be dry and blazing. July, August and September are hot and if luck has it, humid with the wet monsoon season. By October, with the weather still warm both day and night, it feels like cool temperatures won’t ever grace the desert land.
And then it happens. A sudden shift occurs in the evenings. A cool breeze beckons you to open your windows and doors. The nights almost require a long sleeve shirt and quite possibly, for the thinner-blood, desert dwellers, a light jacket. With little warning and almost overnight, fall arrives.
But it wasn’t just the heat that I thought would never pass. There were days and weeks in the desert when I believed my depression would never lift, financial burdens would remain heavy or illness would forever be present in my life. I could look to the future and see no hope on the horizon—only more of the same, heat and heartache.
Ever felt this way?Ever believed life couldn’t possibly change for the better?
Like the fierce desert sun that can be so oppressive, perhaps your burdens are overwhelming you right now. You cannot find any shelter; no sanctuary seems to exist for the renewal of your spirit. Your life has become an ongoing battle and despair is winning. Just as cool weather in the desert seems to have abandoned the land, so too does hope seem out of reach.
If this is how you feel, if this is your reality here and now, know this: This…too…shall… pass.
This season of your life will NOT last forever. And if you cannot believe this for yourself, I will hold that hope for you. I have been where you are now.